Showing posts with label Ryan Adams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ryan Adams. Show all posts

Aug 12, 2020

Hidden Gems

I have a Spotify playlist called Hidden Gems and it’s one of my favorites to return to a couple times a year. There’s no genre distinction, no particular theme; these are just great songs that are generally unknown. There are killer songs from well known artists who weren’t as popular at the time of release, amazing tunes from artists who flamed out before they ever got over, forgotten gold, little heard gems from stalwarts, and just damn good songs not many people have heard. I’m going to pick a few of these from time to time to spotlight. 

The Broken West - “Down in the Valley”
Holy shit, what an introduction! When I heard this song, I thought this band was destined for greatness. Power pop with some Americana influence, and a MASSIVE hook, swagger, and all kinds of “It” factor, this should surely have made them a household name. Sadly, it didn’t happen. In the very least, “Down in the Valley” should have been a big hit in some format. That didn’t happen either. I have no idea why. It’s a damn ear worm. The Broken West only released 2 proper albums and broke up. What might have been… with better promotion and the right ears hearing it. They’d fit in perfectly today with pop inspired rockers like White Reaper and Rookie.

Krizz Kaliko - “Bipolar”
Part of Tech N9ne’s hip-hop collective, Strange Music, Kaliko is both a skilled rapper and a talented vocalist. “Bipolar” features the latter, and it’s a strangely catchy look into a difficult upbringing. Dealing with childhood mental illness, it's a bracing story with an addictive piano riff and an oddly sing-along chorus. The contrasts make this a memorable tune. And for those who think hip-hop is just brags over beats, this is a narrative filled with true emotional candor. A real hidden gem.

Whiskeytown - “Choked Up”
I know Ryan Adams’ name is verboten these days, and with good reason, but I’m slowly coming around to allowing myself to listen to a few of his songs again (at least if they come up in a shuffle, I don't skip), particularly the best of the best. This is one of them. Adams’ vocals are chilled out, letting the killer melody and tasteful harmonies take the lead. It’s a sweet pop-folk tune that sounds like something you’d hear in the background of an early 00s teen drama that you’d rush to buy on iTunes after the show, but one that stands the test of time. It was recorded during the Pneumonia sessions, but left off that record. To my knowledge, the only release of this song was on Lost Highway’s compilation album Lost and Found, Volume 1. 

Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise - “Once Upon a Time”
“Once Upon a Time” was a minor hit on MTV in 1996 but has been lost to the sands of time. It’s a soulful, nostalgic look back at the days of Marvin Gaye and ’72 Chevys. Bradley’s gritty voice is the centerpiece, and I was hooked immediately. A blind soul singer finding success in his latter years leading a garage rock band was quite the marketing hook, but this band backed it up with moving music. Although I had my doubts, I’m happy to report that Bradley is still alive and recording music. Wikipedia lists the band as still active, though they have not released an album since 2008.

Nov 13, 2018

Ruston Kelly's Dying Star Shows Promise of Things to Come

With the ironically named Dying Star, Ruston Kelly 
shows promise of bigger things to come

By Kevin Broughton

Last week saw the long-awaited release of season two of Amazon’s original “Patriot,” easily the most underrated and hilarious television show on any platform the last five years. The protagonist, John Tavner (a.k.a. “Lakeman”) is an intelligence operative/assassin who deals with the job’s inevitable stressors in an unconventional way: By getting high, writing songs about his real-life exploits, then singing them at open-mic nights. This “sad man in a suit” never smiles; but no matter what awful wolves are at the door, he always answers “pretty good,” when somebody asks how things are going. And things are always impossibly awful for Tavner.

One imagines a third season of “Patriot” heavily laden with Ruston Kelly songs. His full-length album debut, Dying Star, is wonderfully, beautifully – almost impossibly – melancholy. His characters just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Whether it’s pills, booze, infidelity or commitment issues these folks touch all the bases and are therefore of necessity sympathetic to somebody. A listen/look at the “Mockingbird” video
gives a pretty good idea at how heavy an emotional investment some of these songs bring. Kelly’s plaintive, poignant voice gives an intimate authenticity to the collection of misfits who bring these stories to life. “Faceplant” is a halfway-funny song about a pill head worrying his girlfriend will key his car and leave his possessions outside when he staggers home for the last time. And that one is followed by “Blackout,” which is the dude’s favorite thing to do in the car. 

Probably no one remembers a time when Ryan Adams wasn’t a pretentious douchebag. Maybe in an alternate universe, Ruston Kelly is Adams, but a version that will never wear horn-rimmed glasses and read his book of poetry to a fawning crowd at a library in Brooklyn. Kelly has the sweet, soulful voice and the songwriting chops. And if these fourteen songs – none of which you’ll want to skip – are any indication, he can be every bit as prolific. Toward the end of the record, there’s even a hopeful uptick toward redemption. Throughout, Kelly makes great use of pedal steel and an occasional dueling harmonica to punctuate his phrasing. The whole record is just really danged pleasing to the ear.

This probably won’t be the best album Ruston Kelly ever makes. But there aren’t many released in 2018 by anyone that are its equal. 


Dying Star is available anywhere you buy or stream fine music.

Feb 15, 2018

Ruby Boots: The Farce the Music Interview

Photo by Cal Quinn

By Kevin Broughton

The stage name – Ruby Boots – is quite ironic, given the varied and calloused life thus far lived by the gal who thought of it (though she can’t recall exactly why.) On her own by 14, Bex Chilcott has been around. I mean, the world. Several times. As in, learned to play guitar working the high seas of the South Pacific.

Her Bloodshot Records debut, Don’t Talk About It, out last week conjures country sensibilities with an edge: Lucinda Williams meets T Rex, with a dash of – dare we say – Lone Justice. 

We caught up with the brassy, sassy, sexy, saucy Aussie and talked pearling, the (de)merits of the metric system, and checking off a huge bucket list item in the nick of time. And some other stuff, too. 

Americans generally view Australians as fascinating and a little exotic. What really grabbed my attention from your bio is that you were working on a pearling boat at age 19. That sounds both exotic and grueling. Describe that kind of labor.

Well, I guess with any kind of out-of-the-box job, there are really cool perks to it. I was out at sea for two to five weeks at a time, and I was in the sunshine 10 hours a day. It was really beautiful, seeing whales during meal breaks. It really helped my work ethic, but it was literally back-breaking work, pulling up 300 cages a day and cleaning all the oysters. It was in the most beautiful environment, though. 

It’s a complex process, and I suppose we could do the whole interview on pearling (laughs). They have these Japanese technicians who come during harvest and put a plastic bead in the oyster’s tummy. Then they hang in these cages in ocean for two years. And we had to meticulously clean each one. It was a pretty radical thing to do, off the beaten path. But I needed to get out of my hometown.

Give us a thumbnail sketch/timeline of how you wound up in the States, and Nashville particularly.

I ended up hurting my back on the boat – it’s literally back-breaking – but I also ended up learning to play guitar and writing songs while I was out at sea, so I decided to travel around the U.K. and Europe for a couple years. And I came back to Australia and started playing open mics and gigging. That was around 2008, I believe, and I was gigging a lot and ended up developing nodules on my throat because I wasn’t singing the right way.  

So I had to take two years off from singing just to get rid of these nodules on my vocal cords. And after putting my energy into recovering from that, I started gigging and recording, and started to open my eyes to what was out there, and came over to Nashville in 2012. I fell in love with the city immediately; I’d never had that feeling with any other place in the world. And I’ve seen a lot, really: Asia, India, Europe and Australia. And I just kept coming back, because it has this incredible vibe, this small-town feel with all this creative energy that it was living off of. I was coming back a couple times a year.

And then I was awarded a government grant to write my record, so I afforded myself some time in Nashville to get it done, then finished out my last album cycle touring around the country. So in May of 2016, I settled down in Nashville again to write this record. 

This is random, but have you quit thinking in the metric system since you’ve been here? Have you embraced “miles” and “pounds?”

Hell. No! (Laughs) My Siri on my phone is still in kilometers and has an Australian accent!  I’m all about assimilation, but I still need to know where I’m going, how long it’s going to take me to get there, and how far away it is. (Laughs)

Why the stage name, Bex? Going forward will “Ruby Boots” be you & whatever band is behind you at a given time, and how did you come up with the name?

Actually it’s been so long ago, and I’m trying to remember. This came up recently when I was in Australia and on this radio program. It was live-to-air, with an audience, and I was asked about it and I just honestly couldn’t remember; I’ve used other names in the past and have just used this one for the last couple of album cycles. That name’s been with me for a while now and I’ve started to make fans with it in this area. I’ve thought about changing it to something closer to my actual name, but people have grown used to it and can relate to it. 

I do remember that my real surname was not at all stage-worthy, so that was the motivation behind finding an alter-ego name.

The Texas Gentlemen – whose album I’ve worn out since last fall – backed you on this record. How did that introduction come about? 

One of the guys who had played with them a lot who had also played with me – Chase McGillis on bass – has become a very dear friend. And he told me the Gents were passing through Nashville on their way to play the Newport Folk Festival, where they were backing Kris Kristofferson. They were doing a warm up show at the American Legion Hall in Nashville, and Chase rang me about two hours before the show and said, “Do you want to come down and sing “Me and Bobby McGee?”

So, I went down there and sang “Me and Bobby McGee!”


Yeah! So the Gents put on my old record on the bus and listened to it on the way to Newport. And when they were on the way back to Dallas, I was living in Nashville at Nikki Lane’s at the time and they were all there. (Texas Gent and producer) Beau (Bedford) was asking me what I was doing, so I started sending him songs. The rest is kind of history, I guess. 

What about the arrangements and production? Did you go into the studio with a pretty good idea of how you wanted it to sound? How collaborative was it? 

I definitely had set about to move into this record with a fuller electric sound; that was a conscious choice as I was writing the songs. I felt like on my previous tours from other albums that I was missing that extra grit, you know? My punk heart was really missing that.

Beau came out to Nashville and we went through all the songs and talked about them, and what we heard in them. And we set out to honor all the songs, I guess, but still with that electric feel. And we definitely came together chatting about old school records like T Rex, or Tom Petty – whom I’ve just always idolized as my go-to, No. 1 songwriter – and Beau definitely has a lot of the same influences.

But once we got in the studio, all those guys just have such an encyclopedia set between them of such raw musical instincts! The boys are each such great musicians and songwriters; so we did honor the songs, but in a very collective way with such a wealth of everyone’s musicality. 

Several of the songs on this record obviously come from dark places; you left home at 14 for starters, and you named the album “Don’t Talk About It.” Ignoring that title for a moment, I’d like to know where these songs come from, and how cathartic it was to record them. Did you get any kind of closure, or was that something you were even looking for? 

There are some particularly personal elements in the record, and I’m not trying to avoid...(pauses) the listener thinking they’re all songs that I’ve written from a place within myself. But a lot of them were conversational; they started conversations within myself, you know? What was going on in my life at the time, in my friends’ lives…society, and how all of those things spoke to me and came out in songs. 

It’s not a breakup album, it’s not a love album; it’s a life album to me. The introductory track, to me, is a classical example of it. 

It’s that element where…I mean, you can be on the giving end of it or the receiving end of it, but you’ve been in a situation where information is being withheld, and all of a sudden this other person informs you that they have a significant other. And it’s too late to make a moral choice; you’re already locked and loaded in that situation. (Laughs) And I think there’s an element of relate-ability there with the audience. And that’s what I wanted to do with the record and the way listeners digest it.

The great thing about coming from a tumultuous life experience in many ways is that you can always tap into it artistically. It doesn’t leave you – it gets better as time goes by – but it’s always there to tap into. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing as a songwriter. And I think there are elements of strength and vulnerability in this record, with a woman’s voice – a good bit of defiance, but with some fragility too. 

A long-winded answer, but it’s hard to wrap up the voice of my record in a sentence, you know. 

You’ve drawn comparisons to Lucinda Williams and Nikki Lane – the latter sings harmony on one cut. I’m reminded of Kasey Chambers – but that could just be my American brain making subconscious generalities. I’m also reminded of Maria McKee from Lone Justice, but that could be way before your time…

Oh my goodness! I love Lone Justice! You are the FIRST PERSON who’s ever made that comparison! I swear I was just thinking please, please, let him say Lone Justice, let him make a Lone Justice comparison!

Honest, that was the first thing I thought of. I said, “Man, this is Lone Justice.”

No sh*t? That’s awesome, and one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said. I love her! To hear you say that about someone I admire so much is a very big compliment. So thank you very much.

Who are some of your other influences?

Off the top of my head, Lucinda, Ryan Adams and Tom Petty are probably my top three songwriters that I just adore.  Anytime I feel like I’m not getting what I want from what I’m listening to, I can just go back to those three. 

I still can’t believe Tom Petty’s gone. Can’t process it. 

You know, a lot of bad sh*t happened last year, but that was the worst. I feel really lucky because I finally got to see him in Detroit last year, on the 40th Anniversary Tour. I had just fallen in love, and our first out-of-town trip was to Detroit to see Tom Petty, and that was at the top of my bucket list. I’m so glad I acted on a hunch that I might not get a chance to see them again, you know? 

What’s next for Ruby Boots? 

After the record launch on Feb. 9, I’m gonna play some shows in Kansas City, and we’ll hit South By Southwest after that. I’ll do an in-store here in Nashville. But it just means so much – it’s taken a lot of will and might – to have made my way here to America from Australia. It means so much to be able to launch this record here in America after all the tenacity and focus. It’s a really big deal for me, you know? 


Ruby Boots' Don't Talk About It is available on Amazon, iTunes, and all the usual outlets.

Jan 22, 2018

Exclusive Single Premiere: Whiskey in the Pines "Sixteen"

Today we offer you the exclusive single premiere from Florida alt-country outfit Whiskey in the Pines. "Sixteen" is a bass line driven slice of anthemic Americana in the vein of American Aquarium and Ryan Adams. It may take you back to the 90s heyday of alt-country music, when Son Volt was being played on MTV, The Jayhawks were on fire, and Wilco wasn't dad rock. It did me.

There's a bit more bio information and the band's thoughts on "Sixteen" below the player.

Their new EP, Sunshine From the Blue Cactus is available February 2, 2018 from Amazon, iTunes, etc.

What is "Sixteen" about? 
This is one of those songs that just fell out of the sky. To break it down simplistically the song was my way of expressing that in the end, it all works out. There is no doubt that the song is the most personal on the record and it encapsulates this strange emotion I was feeling at the time. My mom had passed, my son had just been born, and in the middle of it all was this feeling of retrospect of what in the hell just happened. We move so fast in life we don’t process what we feel. This was me simply looking back saying to myself “If you would have told me that in one year from now this is where you will be, sitting on this bed, writing this song, I would have called you a bold face liar.” I don’t know if it’s because I am more aware these days or just more grateful but I am still astonished at how unpredictable life can be and how good it really all is.

Who/what were some influences when it came to writing "Sixteen?" 
Oh, it was so long ago it’s tough for me to remember what I may have been listening to at the time. But I remember distinctively watching an interview with Ryan Adams and he was discussing how he knew what kind of song he would be writing based on where he placed his capo. I never really purposely thought of it like that, even though I love using a capo. On “Sixteen” the capo on the guitar is on the 4th fret which brings a bit of a brighter feeling to it. I remember when I was coming up with the melody in my head that I wanted it to be a bit brighter and the best way to do that was to bring the capo to a higher register. So to answer the question I suppose I would tip my hat to Mr. Adams for at least making me realize how powerful the capo can be when tapping into the emotional feel of a song.


Photo by Pat McDonnel


While Whiskey in the Pines’ hails from Florida, synonymous with endless sunshine
and miles of beaches, the ocean is still a long way from the band’s hometown
Tallahassee. “It’s about a two-hour drive,” says David Lareau, Whiskey in the Pines’
plainspoken singer and principal songwriter. The band’s unmistakably Southern
moniker—a perfect fit for its brand of heartfelt, no-frills Americana—was inspired by
their frequent excursions down US-319 south to the languid shores of the Gulf.
“You’re traveling miles of road surrounded by nothing but pine trees,” he says. “And
a good friend of mine always called me ‘Whiskey.’ I drove out to the beach so often
that when it came time to name the band, it was a pretty straightforward choice.”
For Lareau, Whiskey In The Pines has been at once a new beginning and a much-
needed salve to heal the wounds of a tumultuous year. As the band prepares to
release its new EP, Sunshine From The Blue Cactus (named for drummer Erik
Wutz's admired waitress, Sunshine, who worked the lunch shift at the band’s favorite
haunt), Lareau has been reflecting back on the pothole-filled road that led him to this
“When I was writing the songs for Sunshine, My mom had recently passed away,
and I’d also just had my first kid,” Lareau says. “There were all sorts of conflicting
emotions pouring out through the songs. It’s been a journey, for sure.”
Lareau’s Florida roots provide the EP’s alt-country songs with a gentle warmth and
sense of connectedness. This is heartland rock & roll, shot through with an ambling,
country-tinged flourishes. There are songs that would perfectly score a backyard
day-drinking session and others that work as peaceful codas to soundtrack the
after-party cleanup. Which makes perfect sense after everything Lareau has
experienced in recent years. On the autobiographical “Sixteen” and shifty love paean
“Do You Believe in Hell,” Lareau ruefully examines his life’s circumstances,
pondering how past decisions have influenced his present state. Elsewhere on the
EP, “Roses” chugs forward with a driving melody reminiscent of Jason Isbell or Ryan
Adams’ earlier work in Whiskeytown. “It’s times like these when you’re driving
through this town / And you’re playing Tom Petty with the windows down,” Lareau
sings on the chorus, delivering his lines with the authenticity of someone, who—like
the rock legend he name-checks—knows small-town Southern life firsthand.  
Inspiration comes to Lareau in many forms. An avid distance runner, he often works
up melodic ideas as he pounds the pavement, reveling in the solitary miles. And, of
course, life in Tallahassee is inseparable from college football and the Florida State
Seminoles—it was at a tailgate where Lareau came up with the framework for what
would become the somber “Drunk with My Friends.” Sometimes, though, the tunes
come together until the pressure is on to record, which was the case with “Roses.”
“My first stab at writing that song came out really dark, which wasn’t a great fit for the
upbeat melody,” Lareau says. “I was stuck on it for a while but ended up pulling out
some new lyrics the night before we cut it. Everyone loved the spontaneity, so we
went with it.”
Lareau writes quickly and trusts his instincts. He may edit things later upon further
reflection or after hearing input from his bandmates, but he knows he’s at his best
when he strikes while the iron is hot. “For ‘Sixteen,’ I literally picked up the guitar with
the melody in my head laid down with my wife and son beside me, and wrote the
lyrics on my phone in ten minutes,” he says. “I luckily found the right words that
rhyme at 3:30 in the morning.”
Though Lareau anchors the band as frontman and songwriter, Whiskey In the Pines
is a collaborative affair and his bandmates have the chops to make these tunes
really hum. Bassist Aaron Halford and guitarist Kelly Chavers are longtime pals. Noel
Hartough produced the band’s new EP while Erik Wutz handled drums on the
recordings, and ace session musician Barrett Williams soars on pedal steel. The
band dynamic and this new set of songs have energized Lareau as he prepares to hit
the road in support of Sunshine From The Blue Cactus. 
“We’re really proud of this one,” he says. “We want people to remember these
songs, to sing them in the shower, or when they’re taking their kids to school—to

have them become a part of their life.”

Jun 1, 2017

Seinfeld Country Reaction Gifs 2

Wanna go to the FGL restaurant when we visit Nashville?

Name Ryan Adams' second solo album

Nope, still couldn't see much country on the country chart

When your coworker saw Boland last night and didn't invite you

When you hear Paycheck playing at your neighbor's place

Are Cody Jinks and Colter Wall real country singers?

What it sounds like to me when somebody tries 
to explain how Sam Hunt is country

All of Blake Shelton's new music is either stupid or...

May 23, 2017

Ryan Adams' Tribute to Chris Cornell

While I do wish all these tributes had varied their source material a bit, I'm not complaining. 
This is a particularly nice take on "Black Hole Sun."

Nov 4, 2016

WWE Country Reaction Gifs 17

Oh, you think "Are You Ready For Some Football" 
is Hank Jr.'s best song??

 Did I actually just hear Chris Stapleton's 
"Parachute" on the radio?

Insane Clown Posse cover band goes country

When your debate over Ryan Adams' 
best song gets a little out of hand

Nashville "country" songwriting session: 
"This songs needs a little something... I know!"

Me, about Easton Corbin

 How you should look at someone 
who asks "Who's Charley Pride?"

When your two best friends find out you have 
one extra ticket to Dwight Yoakam

Mar 30, 2016

Robbie Fulks Channels Agee from Down South to the Upland

Fulks Channels Agee from Down South to the Upland

By Kevin Broughton

Eighty years ago, Knoxville-born and Harvard-educated journalist James Agee headed South on assignment for Fortune magazine. His time spent with three white, West Alabama sharecropping families evolved from a long form magazine story to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an early touchstone of a forthcoming wave of “new” or “literary” journalism, which would feature names like Capote and Plimpton and Talese.   

Agee – a film critic by trade, mostly – brought to light the balefully stark conditions under which the lowly whites toiled. You hear – and can see, really -- their plaintive, hardscrabble lives in Robbie Fulks’ Upland Stories, released on Bloodshot Records on April 1.

If you’re familiar with Fulks’ body of work, you appreciate the release date’s ironic wink. If not, well, there’s really not enough space to get you fully up to speed. It’s complicated. Comparisons to other artists are the mediocre music writer’s crutch and I ain’t scared to lean on them. Hell, I’ve got a closet full and not a single one works here.

Pennsylvania born, Carolina-and-Virginia raised, now affixed to Chicago. A bracing tenor who’ll make your hair stand on end, but knows less is often more. Guitar virtuosity that’s under-heralded and would enjoy Buddy Miller status if the latter confined himself to a mic’d up acoustic 80 percent of the time. Then there’s the songwriting.

What if Frank Zappa had been born un-swarthy and in the Blue Ridge? Hmmm. We’re getting somewhere, comparison-wise.  Fulks has a deep reverence for traditional country, bluegrass and roots music; appropriate, since he has few peers as a practitioner of the craft. And yet on the same album, you could hear a song that’s so country it’s busting on country. It’s a pity so few people get the joke, because much of Fulks’ appeal is in his wit. It’s mainly how he made his bones early on, and never too far from the surface. 

On Upland Stories, though, you step deeply into the melancholy – a word that cropped up a time or three – and it’s not wit, but passion and empathy that hold you. Do yourself a favor and listen to the opening cut, “Alabama at Night,” right here, before reading any further. It’ll set the mood. You’re with Agee.

We caught up with Mr. Fulks and talked American literature, Year Zero on Austin City Limits, Feuding with Mojo Nixon, and getting Called By Saul.

Your last album, Gone Away Backward took on some topical issues like economic hardship and alienation. In Upland Stories, you take it one step further, with James Agee as your jumping off point. Did you do these two records with thematic continuity in mind?

Yeah, I wanted to do a record that came out of the previous one, because I liked the way Gone Away Backward sounded, and was pleased with the reception of it. And I enjoyed traveling around and supporting it with the players on it. This one came out sounding a little less like the last one than I wanted it to, and ended up with electric guitar and organ and various other things on it. But I think the nature of it does somehow connect it to the last album, and that’s because of the thematic material.

The Agee angle came out of a show I was working on – it’s now on hold -- with a playwright, and we were looking at subjects, and he suggested I think of something that really lifted my skirts. So we were talking about home, and the South, and places you can’t return to anymore and lost, old things. I just thought of James Agee, and took a dive into Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Other than the obvious, why Agee?  He was a little sheepish about his own status when he wrote, and wrote about, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. How do you think, if at all, being a Southern white child of relative privilege enhanced or encumbered his ability to write that book?

I don’t think of him as privileged, other than the fact that he was a Harvard guy. But I think he had this melancholy – if not depressed – streak, and I may presume to say that once he was up north, he was an outsider. Where he came from really came to occupy a haunted little sector of his brain. And there’s just a melancholy, aggrieved air in his writing, whether he’s writing about film or poor people…a lot of it’s infused with sentiment and depth of feeling.

Did you write all of these songs with this topical/thematic album in mind, or were there some outliers that you dropped in as well?  I ask because  “Needed” is obviously personal, and autobiographical stuff isn’t typical of your catalog, unless I’m missing a lot.

(Chuckles) You’re actually remarkably close to my frame of mind when I put that song [into the album] because I had a group of ten or 12 songs at a certain point, and I tried to look at them and envision what was missing. And it seemed like a personal ballad was missing for some reason, like the album was a little too immured in social issues, and in narratives in points of view other than my own. So it seemed like it needed a hard shot of something strongly personal, and I deliberately wrote that one to fill that slot. I tried to distance it from myself a little, in that I had the singer talking to his daughter; I have three sons. Other than that, it’s pretty close to stuff that’s happened to me and a trillion other people.

Are there other characters on the album based on people you know or knew?

Well, “Sarah Jane” is kinda – I don’t want to embarrass her – but there was a girl I went to high school with…well, in fact I named her on the record, her name was Judson. Anyway she and I had a memorable encounter, it was after high school, and we realized we could’ve dated.  That song is about all the things you’ve missed out on, and many roads not taken, and sort of drifting through melancholy and middle age and letting all that stuff get to you.

You spent some time in the early and mid 90s as the “hired help,” writing songs for the likes of Tim McGraw & Ty Herndon. Were tunes like “The Scrapple Song” and “Papa Was a Steel-headed Man” your way of saying “I’m free” after that stint?

When I was working for that company, I wrote a quite lot of songs that were out of my personality, and which were songs for them to pitch. Some of them were songs that made my skin crawl to be singing them. So I would sometimes write songs just to blow off steam, which how I came to write “Fuck This Town” and “God Isn’t Real,” as a way of sort of countering the other type of dross that I was coming up with.

And then some of them were in the middle, like “Tears Only Run One Way,” was written from the heart but then I thought “Well, this could conceivably be pitched to somebody or another.” So some were in between, but they ended up becoming my first album, Country Love Songs.

“Tears Only Run One Way” could be a Buck Owens song. And there’s a Buck Owens-themed song on that album.

Buck’s steel player was on that record.

Do you come across many people whose first exposure to you was your Austin City Limits appearance around ’97 or ’98?

Oh, yes. Is that what it was for you? How old are you?

Old. About three years younger than you.

I’ve definitely heard that. For the people that came along in Year Zero for me, so to speak, around 1996-97, it’s hard to displace that from what they like about me. And yes, it makes me yearn for more prime time TV. It makes me wish I could go back and do that again, with the better things I’m doing now.

You’ve written songs about bludgeoning pigs with hammers and reducing them to a gelatinous pie; starlets who kill themselves with pills; crushing on Susanna Hoffs; a truly disturbing “children’s song” about a creepy magician; and a Michael Jackson tribute album. Ever ask yourself where all this comes from?

Some of it comes from assignments. The kids’ record [Bloodshot] asked me to contribute to; the Michael Jackson thing, believe it or not, came from an assignment. It was his birthday and the Cultural Center in Chicago was putting on a tribute and I re-worked some of his songs. I found that I enjoyed doing it, so it emerged from that.  Some of it’s fortuitous, if that’s the right word.

Some of the hard right turns I’ve taken on the discography, I might have second thoughts if I could do it again, but I think the great benefit to being “unpopular” and being kind of a cult figure is that I don’t have people looking over my shoulder saying “don’t do this, don’t do that.” So there’s absolute freedom to do what I do, and I really need to exploit it.

You mentioned working with a playwright on a musical. Have you ever tried your hand at prose? A short story or screenplay, maybe? I think you’ve got a movie in you.

Well, that’s nice of you. I don’t think I could do that, so I’ll disagree with you there. I have written a story that I’m not really proud of that came out in a collection of country artists…I think it was called “A Guitar and a Pen,” basically people who have no business writing prose. I wrote something in “An Atheist’s Guide to Christmas.” A few things for the Journal of Country music.

I see from Twitter that I missed you & Mojo Nixon on Sirius XM from Austin a couple weeks back, and I’m pissed. Care to give a summation?

It was surprisingly serious. Mojo gave his version of something he thought I meant when I said something rude about him, in an interview somewhere along the line that I’ve long forgotten. So we sort of interpreted what I meant by my supposed insult to his craft. I would have rather screamed obscenities at one another, because that would have made for better radio.

I certainly bear him no ill will. Whatever I said about him was just trying to explain that I do more than novelty songs. And I used his name as an example.

“At least I’m not Mojo Nixon?”

Well, I don’t think there was an “at least” in it, but yeah.

Now I’m gonna have to go back an look at some of the videos he did when I was in college.

Well, he can take it. The main thing about him -- and I love his show. In fact I don’t love the music on his show, but I love his part of it. So sometimes I’ll have it on in the car and turn it up when he’s talking, then turn it back down again.

You know, they play you on that station every now and again.

Well, I’ll turn it up for that. Then back down for Ryan Adams or whatever.

Back to Upland Stories. “America is a Hard Religion” sounds like Appalachia, but I think you’re making a point that’s more universal. What can you tell me about point of view and/or characters in that song?

 I’d like to tell you something really specific and revealing about it, but it’s a little bit of a nebulous tune. It’s one that I wrote for the musical about James Agee, so I didn’t have a hard grasp of the point of view. It’s meant to be an old-timey song that’s shockingly realistic about what poor people in America endure, like sending kids off to war. And doing backbreaking work, and being part of this great historical social contract, while living among unimaginably wealthy people who live like kings. So it’s a point of view from a demographic group, rather than a single person.

“Never Come Home” is kind of a downer. What’s going on there, besides a guy going home to spend his last few days or weeks?

That’s exactly what it’s about. He goes to his family, who doesn’t understand or appreciate him, and in fact looks upon him with rank suspicion because he’s been living in New York. His family is religious and he’s not, or hasn’t been. It’s one of those confrontations between superstition and secular rationality you see in a Flannery O’Connor story, or a sort of T.S. Eliott allusion that we do things because we’ve been instructed with certain beliefs. That clash of values is great, it’s fruitful, just as it was when Miss O’Connor did it.

Your references to Flannery O’Connor and T.S. Elliot – in one response – make me wonder what you studied at Columbia before dropping out.

Nominally, Kevin, it was English, but in fact it was sitting in coffee houses and getting drunk at night. Not a lot of studying involved in my college career, unfortunately.

What's the Bob Odenkirk connection? Are you guys Chicago pals? Also, I'm in a minority that thinks he was better as Bill Oswalt on season 1 of Fargo than Saul Bello. Is this heresy?

We have a mutual friend, Dino Stamatopoulos, and I guess Bob liked my stuff also, but I hadn’t met him till that day at his house. That’s him in Fargo? I thought it was Frances McDormand!

Over the course of your career, you've done songs that embrace and celebrate everything traditional and pure about country music; and often on the same album you might have a couple that are essentially self-parodies or caricatures of the genre. Discuss this continuum. (That sounds like a high school essay question, doesn't it?)

Too much Mad Magazine as a youngster. If I love something I put it under the light.

"Parallel Bars" is a favorite of mine, mainly because it's a duet with the dreamy Kelly Willis. You've also worked with Lucinda Williams and Nora O'Connor. With whom else would you like to duet? Or, is there already a waiting list of chicks wanting to sing with you?

You’re leaving out Joy Lynn White, Ora Jones, Donna Fulks, Jenny Scheinman, Kelly Hogan, Gail Davies, and Brennen Leigh. Other womenfolk I’d love to sing with include Jeannie Seely, Rhonda Vincent, Delia Bell, Susanna Hoffs, Annette Peacock, Jennifer Nettles, Nicole Atkins, Cecile McLorin Salvant, and the late Martha Carson. The man-woman combination is my favorite harmony situation. Who knows why, I guess the high/low contrast and the varying sets of reproductive organs must be part of the charm!

There’s a pretty decent Robbie Fulks set list here, SoundCloud.  He’s touring all over the place this spring, so check out where you can see him on his website.   

Upland Stories is available Friday, April 1 at all the usual spots, including Bloodshot Records (where you can pre-order now).


Related Posts with Thumbnails